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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An analysis of the environmental assessment and review process : the case of the Alaska Highway gas pipeline McKee, Gillian Amy Stuart


This thesis evaluates the effectiveness of the Environmental Assessment and Review Process (EARP) as a mechanism to assess the effects of resource development projects on the environment and to communicate this assessment to decision makers. The EARP review of the Alaska Highway Gas Pipeline Project (AHGP) serves as a case study. Criteria based on liberal democratic principles were used to evaluate EARP's procedural capability to sample public opinions, to obtain information about the project's impacts, and to communicate these opinions and this information to government decision makers. EARP has the potential to assess the effects of a project and to communicate this information to decision makers. However, realization of this potential relies totally on the voluntary co-operation of the project proponent, the EARP panel, and the public intervenors participating in a review. Participants in the AHGP review could not, or were not compelled to, co-operate fully because of procedural weaknesses. Inconsistency in the rules of conduct of the public involvement procedures was apparent throughout the three phases of the AHGP review. The panel provided the public intervenors with the opportunity only to react to, rather than to comment before, the proponent's initial assessment. The panel scheduled public meetings before the intervenors had time to review all the proponent's information. EARP did not provide funding for intervenors to obtain an independent assessment, or to attend the public meetings. The generation of relevant information relied on the panel's inclination and ability to pursue issues. The panel could not compel the proponent to respond adequately. As a result of these procedural weaknesses, some members of the public were unwilling and unable to participate. The quality of interventions of those who participated suffered. The panel did not rigorously pursue all relevant issues in their requests to the proponent. The proponent's responses did not fulfill the panel's requests. The information communicated by the panel to the Minister of the Environment was primarily an analysis of the merits and the feasibility of the proponent's preferred project strategy. Public concerns were inadequately represented in the analysis. It was not a thorough assessment comparing the impacts of the preferred strategy with those of alternative strategies. The extension of the review to three phases offset some of the procedural problems. It enabled the panel to narrow their requests to the most critical issues. The proponent had the opportunity to generate additional information in response to panel requests. All participants learned, over the course of the review, to co-operate and to participate more effectively. Other analysts have observed in previous EARP reviews procedural weaknesses similar to those of the AHGP review. These weaknesses are attributable to EARP's discretionary nature, its lack of legal power, its one-shot and project-specific approach, and to the lack of a policy which would provide a context for EARP.

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